I’m going to talk shop here for a minute. As I approach the halfway mark on my trip, I’m starting to think about what makes an ideal karaoke experience, at least for me. The Deuce was a lot of fun, and I would love to go back there again, but possible not for karaoke. The bar itself was originally established as a WWII Club (complete with functioning periscope!), but now leaned toward being a lesbian bar. When we arrived about an hour before the singing was to begin, we were the only ones in there, save for the staff. There was also a regular, Carl, in there. An older man who was there for the third time that day, drinking a ginger ale. A bachelorette party then came in, surprised by the lack of crowd; then Carl said something offensive to the woman wearing an actual wedding dress, and they took off before the first song the group put into the jukebox was over. The slight bartender told Carl off for chasing customers away:
“They were customers?” He truly looked confused.
“All people who come into this bar are customers, Carl,” sighed the bartender. She told him never to do that again, but I personally have my doubts. Later she told us that he had had a stroke not too long ago, and his filter was more than a little off. She still needed him to stay in line, she said — especially after the last time when he told her and his partner to fuck off for no reason other than they were having a simple conversation.
The bartender spent the next hour or so chatting us up and helping us order Chinese food for delivery, since her kitchen flooded in January and they hadn’t fixed it yet. We drank local beers and got sucked into watching You, Me, and Dupree. Not a typical evening for sure.
Between 10 and 10:30 the place went from dormant to packed. Another bachelorette party that stayed, some smaller groups, and a birthday where everyone wore tiny hats – chef’s, pink western, sombreros, and fez all worn at a slight angle high upon their heads. The pool tables filled up, as did all the tables. The wait for a drink was three deep. I had put in my first song choice when the place was empty and regretted the selection when the KJ called my name to get the place going; somehow old Chicago didn’t really fit the vibe, but some of the bachelorette group seemed to be listening actively and that was encouraging. However, this was the sort of place where people were more interested in socializing and occasionally singing.
The speaker system was so loud, blaring right behind the singers. I screamed my second song more than sang it. It was a better choice at least (who doesn’t go for 80s Pat Benatar?), and I saw people bobbing up and down to the music as they chatted with their friends. Supportive crowd, but not like Otters where there was high participation. I thought there would be more dancing. Maybe there was later.
My gut says there weren’t a lot of regulars there – just one wearing a white cowboy hat and a Hawaiian shirt. His slow song selections were well done, but completely drowned out by the din of people shooting pool, celebrating birthdays and love, and just generally doing their own thing. People were having a great time, and it was apparent that the karaoke was the big draw to a place like this, but at the same time the karaoke wasn’t the main event. Lots of singers waiting to sing, but no one seeming to want to be there to listen. The system too loud to have a conversation with a friend, but no one seemed to be into dancing – and some song selections were quite conducive to that. One of the highlights was a guy who did his own twisting dance moves as he sang a mean Kiss in true Prince falsetto.
I’ll continue to ponder the factors that create the ideal karaoke experience for me; the social scientist in me compels me to. It also gets amazing reviews on Yelp for its karaoke, crowd, and vibe, so I will also appreciate that my experience was a sample size of one. In the meantime, I’ll remember The Deuce as a bar with a friendly staff, strange history, and a man named Carl who may or may not learn to keep his thoughts to himself.
- Location: The Deuce WWII Club, Northampton, MA
- Miles traveled: 256
- Songs sung: Saturday in the Park (Chicago), Love is a Battlefield (Pat Benatar)